Facts and Comments (1902)

by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

This online edition of Spencer’s Facts and Comments is a work in progress.
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FC-26.1 At first sight the title “Regimentation” seems to imply nothing more than a description in detail of the changes set forth above; but while in part it brings into view one side of these changes, and suggests their common tendency, it serves a further end. I use it here to express certain wider changes which are their concomitants. For as indicated some pages back, and as shown at length in The Principles of Sociology, in a chapter on “The Militant Type,” that graduated subordination which we see in an army, characterizes a militant society at large more and more as militancy increases.
FC-26.2 System, regulation, uniformity, compulsion – these words are being made familiar in discussions on social questions. Everywhere has arisen an unquestioned assumption that all things should be arranged after a definite plan. The recent course of public opinion shows how powerless, when opposed to prejudices and fancies, are those large truths which science discloses. One might have thought that in these days when it has been proved that the progress of all life has been made possible only by unceasing variations, and that uniformity implies quiescence ending in death – one might have thought that the tendency would be, if not to foster variety, at any rate to give full opportunity for it. Yet a reverse tendency has been produced by the causes explained.
FC-26.3 Though we have not reached a state like that boasted of by a French minister who said – “Now all the children in France are saying the same lesson,” yet if we compare our present state with our state before board-schools were set up, we see a movement towards a like ideal. We have a “Code” to which managers and teachers must conform; and we have inspectors who see that the conceptions of the central authority are carried out. So far along some lines has the regimental system gone, that the Board of Education has had power to direct the metric system to be taught: over-taxed children are, at the will of the commanding officer, made to learn sets of measures which are not in use. Moreover, out of the elementary course there has developed a secondary course; and now have come technical schools to give boys knowledge and aptitude fitting them for various businesses. Schools of science, art-schools, and schools of design, too, have been set up; so that the State now prepares its pupils not for life in general only, but also for special careers. Meanwhile, as I prophesied thirty years ago would happen, the step has bene taken from rearing the mind to rearing the body. In pursuance of the dogma that it is the duty of the community towards the child “to see that it has a proper chance as regards its equipment in life,” it is held that food must be provided for hungry children; and there have been proposals to give shoes if parents fail to supply them. When it is added that there are over 30,000 children in industrial and truant schools, maintained and officered by the State, we see that even in a single generation great strides have been taken towards a regimental organization for moulding children after an approved pattern.
FC-26.4 Having been prepared for life by government, citizens must have their activities controlled by law. The late Mr. Pleydell-Bouverie found that in lizabeth’s reign, out of 269 Acts, 68 were for regulating trade; and under James the First 33 out of 167 were similarly directed. These, all found useless or mischievous, have been repealed. But now, along with resuscitation of an older social type, there is a recurrence of old leanings toward the State-overseeing of industry. The restriction of child-labour in factories opened the way for regulations protecting more and more numerous classes of workers. Though the loss suffered by a mine-owner from an explosion is a stronger deterrent form risks than anything else, yet it is thought that precautions against explosions, can be insured only by inspectors: a belief which survives frequent explosions. The State, which has many accidents to its own vessels and often loses them, undertakes to prevent me in the merchant service through a body of officials; though judging from the number of shipwrecks the effect is not manifest.
FC-26.5 But let us turn from these scattered examples to examples of more general kinds. During the first part of the nineteenth century, while yet municipal governments were undeveloped, the activities of each were limited to a few all-essential matters – the maintenance of order by a small staff of constables, the paving and cleaning of the streets, the lighting of them by oil lamps, the making and maintaining of sewers. To meet the growing demands for conveniences of one or other kind, speculative citizens united their means and risked large sums in the hope that while subserving public wants they might gain rather than lose. Gas-companies arose early in the century; and from them the town authorities bought gas for lighting the streets. Presently came water-companies which on reservoirs, conduits, and distributing pipes, spent large sums. Thus town after town was greatly advantaged in pursuance of ordinary trade principles.* But in place of these private combinations of men, investing their savings and looking for interest, as men at large do, we now have municipal organizations which are usurping these businesses one after another and entering upon more. By the courtesy of the Town-Clerk of Birmingham I have obtained details of the various administrations in that city. We may begin with the all-essential one – the police force, which contains 800 men of seven grades. Next comes the public-works department, having eight divisions (including streets, trams, sewers and lighting), employing 1,726 men of fourteen denominations. In the water-supply administration we find 469 officials bearing twenty-five different names, besides other officials in the new Elan works. In the gas-department, there are 2,845 employés divided into seven classes; and then comes the more recent electric supply system with 113 men of four grades. After these may be named the fire-brigade with 72 men in five grades. The baths and parks divisions here follow with their 137 employés of eleven kinds. Then we have the department of markets and fairs employing 45 men of six kinds, and that of weights and measures employing 13 men of four kinds. There are three groups under the Health Committee, entitled “interception,” “sanitary,” and “hospitals,” of which the first has 585 men of four grades in its pay, the next 75 men of five grades, and the last 178 men and women of five grades. The several subdivisions of the estates administration (of which one concerns the law-courts ) employ 109 people variously distinguished. Following these may be put down the City-asylum and the lunatic-asylum, of which the one has 133 employés of eleven kinds and the other 111 employés of sixteen kinds. After the industrial school, which occupies 18 variously named officials, come the school of art with its branches, occupying 157, and the technical school occupying 66: in each case variously classed. Last come the museum and the art-gallery employing 29 bearing various titles. Over all these preside the officials of the governing body, the town-clerk’s department and the treasurer’s department, the one with 15 and the other with 25 members of several grades. The entire organization includes 7,800, very soon to exceed 8,000. Thus while there has been a replacing of joint-stock companies by municipal administrations, there have been developing many other administrations, undertaking other works. Each of these is, as we see, like a military administration is having ranks subordinate one to another; and the aggregate of them reminds us of a series of companies united into regiments and brigades under a central command.
FC-26.6 To Mr. William McBain who is familiar with the municipal government of Glasgow, and at the meeting of the British Association held there last year read a paper on the subject, I am indebted for the following brief account of the public organization of that city. The names of the divisions and their numbers run this: – Headquarters, 60; police force, 1,400; works-department (to which belongs the supervision of new and existing buildings, streets and drains), 600; lighting-department, 700; cleansing-department, 600; city engineer and architect’s department, 12; tramways, 3,500; water-supply, 527; gas, 3,000; electricity, 1,200; telephones, 400; fire-brigade, 121; public parks, galleries, museums and housing department, 300; baths and washing houses, ––; markets, bazaars, halls, and blocks, 150; city assessor’s department, 40; health department, 700; libraries, 100; labour bureau, 3; churches, ––; total, 13,413. In addition to the municipal administrations there are in both cases school-board authorities and parochial authorities with their staffs: the number of graded officials and employés under their control in Glasgow being 4,000.
FC-26.7 As intimated above, regimentation is another aspect of that general retrogression shown in growing imperialism and accompanying re-barbarization. Curious evidence of the way in which the one, like the other two, is carrying us back to mediævalism, is furnished by the town-records of Beverley recently published. The various businesses were of course, after the general usage of the time, carried on by members of gilds, which, including certain minor ones, numbered at the end of the fifteenth century, twenty-three. These groups of merchants, traders, and artisans, down even to porters, severally had a warden or alderman with two assistants or stewards and with two searchers or inspectors; while the component master-traders or burgesses had journeymen or apprentices. These organized bodies were under the control of a town-government, originally the Twelve Keepers, elected by the burgesses or masters, and these, while carrying on civic business, exercised authority over the gild-members, inflicting fines for various offences and breaches of rules. That is to say, though having different ends, these bodies were analogous to our modern administrations in respect of their graduated structure, their subjection to municipal government, and their inspection by its officers.
FC-26.8 Not content with undertaking such businesses as those of joint-stock companies, our public agencies, general and local, are beginning to enter upon retail trading. We have not yet gone so far as the French, who have made the sale, as well as the manufacture, of tobacco and matches and gunpowder into State-monopolies, and who have State-establishments for the making of fine porcelain and tapestries, but we are taking steps in the same direction. Most conspicuous is municipal house-building. Over fifty years ago, and again in 1884 [Online editor’s note: Social Statics and The Man versus the State respectively. – RTL], I pointed out that such enterprise is self-defeating, and recently Lord Avebury and Lord Rosebery have insisted on the same truth. But the public are now set upon it, and can no more be stopped than a runaway horse can be stopped by pulling the reins. Other trades are being entered upon. The Liverpool Corporation sells sterilized milk for infants; and, arguing that it is proper to guard adults as well as infants from typhoid and tuberculosis, this sale of milk may be made general. The Corporation of Tunbridge Wells is carrying on the business of hop-growing – successfully, the town-clerk says; and it has set up a telephone system. At Torquay municipal farming has gone to the extent of making a profit from rabbits on its 2,200 acres of land, and feeding sheep instead of letting the grass to outsiders. Each step renders subsequent steps easier. Some three years or more ago a deputation to the London Country Council advocated a system of municipal bakeries; and there are signs that we may presently have intoxicating liquors sold by public agency: the Gothenburg system and the vodka-monopoly in Russia furnishing precedents. When Collectivism has strengthened itself enough, there may come municipal groceries, and so on with other trades, until at length manufacturers and distributors are formed into multitudinous departments, each with its head and its ranks of subordinates and workers – regiments and brigades. In France, beyond the fighting army, the army of civil servants, ever increasing, has reached nearly 900,000, and when all our businesses have been municipalized, a larger number will have been reached here.
FC-26.9 Meanwhile the same process is going on among artisans and others united into trade-unions. Made somewhat different from one another by adjustments to different occupations, they nevertheless show community in the division of their members into various ranks – master-workmen, labourers, apprentices. As of old in the gilds, there is a narrow limit to apprenticeships, and there are barriers against the rising of workers of a lower rank into those of a higher. There are rigid rules, and spies to detect breaches of them. There are governing committees before which transgressing members are called, and by which heavy penalties for disobedience are imposed. Beyond these there are the penalties of expulsion and consequent persecution when seeking employment. The local groups in each trade are subject to a central body partially controlling them; and there have been attempts to unite all the trades. So that the general principles of regimentation are displayed throughout. The whole organization is regarded as the workers’ army; and the assertion has been made that in the conflict with masters the usages if war are justifiable.
FC-26.10 Lastly let us note that this regimentation, now conspicuous in private organizations as in public ones, illustrates the concomitance between exercise of coercion and submission to coercion. The men who, pursuing what they think their trade-interests, trample on other men’s freedom, surrender their own freedom while doing it. The members of a trade-union who assault non-unionists for offering to work on lower terms than themselves, thus denying their liberty of contract, have themselves yielded up their liberty of contract to the majority of their fellows and its governing body. While relinquishing their own rights to make the best of their own powers, they prevent outsiders from exercising similar rights, and stigmatize as a “blackleg,” that is, a swindler, the man who insists in making his own bargains. Nay, they do more. Their leaders have applauded the Boer Government because it “protected the strikers but refused police protection for ‘blacklegs.’” Already these men have made themselves semi-slaves to their trade-combinations, and with the further progress of imperialism, re-barbarization, and regimentation, their semi-slavery will end in complete slavery – a state which they will fully deserve.

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FC-26.n1.1 * When reading socialist and collectivist writers, who ignore the evils which towns-people once suffered, and vilify men who, while seeking profits, achieved these great benefits for others, I have sometimes thought I should like to thrust them all back into “the good old times” – times before decent roads had been made by turnpike trusts; times when in London water from wells and conduits was eked out by water carried in leathern sacks over the backs of horses; times when for lighting the streets people had to hang candles (? lanterns) [sic – RTL] out of their windows, and when, even much later, pleasure-seekers were shown their ways home at night by link-boys carrying torches. Six months’ experience of the miseries borne might change their feelings towards the companies they now speak of as public enemies.

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